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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Homemade Mozzarella & Hand-Squeezed Tofu

I don't know where I got the idea that I'd start making cheese and tofu and other things out of curds. There's really nothing that appetizing about taking a liquid and turning it into a solid food. Maybe it's all that money I'm spending at Winco and Trader Joe's and at the Moscow Food Co-Op that screams that these items are too expensive and easily enough made at home. 

Well, a few weekends of experimentation has taught me a few things. Making mozzarella is fun and relatively easy. Making ricotta is not easy and not fun. Making tofu is harder work and lesser fun. So, mozzarella wins!

It's actually pretty surprising how easy it is to make your own fresh balls of mozzy goodness. The hardest part is finding rennet and citric acid. Luckily for me, Moscow Food Co-Op had both! But they're both kinda pricey, especially the citric acid, which makes you rethink the whole economics of it. But it's an art! And curdled milk is your palette.

You can get the whole step-by-step right on the Kitchn, which has nice pictures that guides you through the whole daunting process. I'll give the Clif's notes version. 

You warm up about a gallon of milk, which seems like a lot, but it yields very little actual cheese. On the other hand, you end up with about a gallon of whey, which at first you wonder: what the heck do I do with this? I fed some of it to the dog, who loves it, but then she had to pee every five seconds all night. I boiled it and cooked pasta in it. That was a better choice. I also tried using it to make ricotta, but it didn't take. The tiny curds that formed just went straight through the cloth that was supposed to catch them and down the drain.

I'm getting off topic.  

Okay, so to make mozzarella, you warm up the milk with the citric acid, then you add some rennet, and watch the curds appear. When they hit the right temperature, you sift up the good stuff, microwave them, and stretch with gloved hands. Such glee to stretch your own mozzarella! It's easy to get carried away and overstretch them to the point where they get rubbery. That was my problem. But it was still very good baked into lasagna, stir fried in a scramble, and chopped up in salads.

Be warned that homemade mozzarella doesn't really melt very well. The top of the lasagna looked more like roasted marshmallows than cheese. But it wasn't awful.

The tofu endeavor was not as much of a success. And it was way too much work! To do the whole process in its entirety, I started with whole soy beans, which I soaked overnight and then turned into soy milk. From there, making tofu is an exhausting process of blending, un-frothing, heating and reheating and separating and squeezing and in the end, I didn't even get whole blocks of tofu. I got what I guess you would call "silken tofu," or, "watery messed up tofu". 

My neighbor came over for our Sunday night dinner & Girls episodes ritual and asked "is that the tofu?" and I was like YEAH don't wanna talk about that, I'm just gonna fry up some burgers with goat cheese and arugula and honey mustard dressing and forget about the tofu. No one argued.

Later I wound up just scrambling it up with some eggs whites and serving on toast with some avocado. I'm nothing if I'm not being crafty in my nutrition. 

(Says the girl that hides caramels behind dog treats and grabs one at every chance).

The tofu-making wasn't a complete loss, though. On the first sift-through, you wind up with all the pieces of soy beans ground up in the food processor. According to this website article on tofu making -- and I can't vouch for the validity of a site called La Fuji Mama -- this junk is called okara and you can use it to make a sort of granola. Baked with a little cinnamon, agave and vanilla, it's tolerable. I've been stirring it into my yogurts in the morning. I try not to think about how its basically a weird soy cereal. 

I might as well buy some Birkenstocks and call it over. New York keeps feeling farther away. 

But Spring is here, the lease is resigned, and we've almost made it a year! That's a win for sure. Definitely worth celebrating with cheese and caramels.

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